Recovery Sunday

Several years ago a new family joined my parish.  They were engaged in worship, came back to coffee hour and were otherwise showing all the signs of settling in.  However I noticed that they never came up for communion.

Eventually I found the right moment to ask.  It was at that time that the husband told me that he was an alcoholic.  But, since we only offered wine (and not juice) he didn’t feel like he could fully participate.  This was a real eye opener for me.

While I’ve done a lot to try to help establish a healthy and balanced relationship with alcohol at church, since then I have been increasingly aware of the ways in which addiction affects the lives of my congregation.  Just two weeks ago after services I spent hours counseling parishioners about coping with their own addiction or those of a family member.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This past Sunday alone 9 people in Philadelphia died when they overdosed on heroin.   All around my neighborhood I see people with the telltale signs of “meth mouth.”   The real trouble is that for every person willing to talk about their problem there are many more who are silent.

10170839_819838781377886_8388765585089238816_n

The shield of Recovery Ministries

Last year it was estimated that 40 million adults struggled with addiction to drugs or alcohol.  If you start to account for their immediate family that number grows geometrically.  The Church needs to respond.

Thankfully many denominations and individual congregations already are.  Within my own denomination there is Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church which offers support and resources.

Taking their lead, I am pleased to announce that St. Tim’s is holding its first Recovery Sunday on December 11th at both the 8 and 10:30 am services.

In worship we will offer prayers, encouragement and support for those affected by addiction.  After church several members will speak about their own struggles and recovery.  And we will have resources on hand to help you get more support once you leave.

I don’t know how many people will be helped but I do know that offering love, acceptance, hope and support is an essential expression of what it means to be a Christian.

If you are affected by addiction and need support and happen to be in the area, I sincerely hope you will join us.  You don’t need to talk about it.  You don’t need to stand up and introduce yourself.  You just need to come and be with us.  Sing with us.  Pray with us.  Let us pray for you.  Or just sit quietly.  Whatever works for you.  Just come be with us as we acknowledge the reality of addiction and celebrate the hope and possibility that can be found through the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

#boycottthedecemberists???

Yes we can!

       Yes we did!

Yes we can!

       Yes we did!

So went the chant lead by Colin Meloy of the Decemberists and the packed house at the Electric Factory.  It was only a few days after the election of Barrack Obama in 2008 and Meloy (along with most of the crowd) were still abuzz with excitement.  However, as the chant went on I couldn’t help but notice that here and there a few fans turned around and left the show.

I must confess that at the time it didn’t really bother me.  But ever since the fervor that arose in the wake of Mike Pence’s visit to see Hamilton this past weekend, I have been thinking about the exodus of those fans eight years ago.

download

Let me be clear.  My wife and I are theatre people.  We both performed from middle school through college and she has worked in professional theatre as a fundraiser ever since.  Thus it should come as no surprise that we fundamentally sympathetic to the actors.

The issue for me is not what the cast said (remember, the boos came from the audience, not the actors). Their words were both eloquent and respectful.  Indeed, vice president elect Pence has stated that he had no problem with them.   Moreover, contrary to what the president elect and others have claimed, the role of theatre (or any art) is not to create a “safe space” or to make people happy.  Indeed, it is patently absurd that some of those who previously criticized the idea of “safe space” for overly-sensitive liberal types are now demanding it for themselves.  But that’s beside the point.   Because this issue is not about the first amendment or being offended, it is about the sacred space between performer and audience.

This space has nothing to do with politics.  The piece can be political.  When not on stage the actors can be political.  But, once that relationship between actor and audience is established, things change.  The actor is no longer expressing their personal views but the voice of the character they inhabit.  Any politics come from the piece, not the person.

This inherent distance between performer and audience is known as the Fourth Wall.  And while a few artists (and Deadpool) make a career out of breaking it, the Fourth Wall is generally respected by both artist and audience alike.  And so when it is broken it naturally raises questions.

 

 

To be fair, while the performers never broke character to address Mr. Pence, they did use the stage to make a personal statement.  And that brings us at last to the real issue… should the stage be turned into the performer’s personal pulpit?

That’s a sticky issue because while we all have the right to free speech and free expression, those of us who perform or preach are called to willingly suspend them for the sake of our vocation.  And speaking of pulpits, if Mr. Pence or Mr. Trump were to walk into my church I can’t promise I would be able to resist the opportunity to somehow tailor what I had to say in order to speak directly to them.  Indeed, some would argue that if I didn’t I would be negligent in my prophet and moral duty to speak truth to power.

At the end of the day I don’t care that people were offended. They don’t have to listen to Hamilton or The Decemberists ever again.  But I do think that those of us who perform need to remember that it is not about us, it is about the art.  And that is what we must protect… not people’s feelings, not our ticket sales or attendance, but the sacred space between us and our audience, because without it, our art wouldn’t exist in the first place.

Walking is Aikido

I’ve been studying Aikido for more than 12 years now and it has made a real difference in my daily life.   Translated as “The Way of Harmony” the practitioner strives to achieve harmony with others, including potential attackers.  If one can synchronize one’s posture and timing with an attack it is neutralized.

kirk-ki

Yours truly throwing a training partner. The camera failed to capture the Sith Lightning coming from my fingers.

As I deepened my studies I read philosophical books on the art.  Aikido Shugyo is the autobiography of the founder the particular style I study, Gozo Shioda.  It’s been some years but one line remains clear in my mind,  “Walking is Aikido.”

shugyo_cover_shadow

As with all great philosophy, there is a lot of depth beneath these few simple words.  In essence, the idea is that Aikido is not simply a series of proscribed movements and routines done in the dojo or in a fight.  Real Aikido is a constant discipline and permeates the whole of your life, including the most fundamental aspects like walking and breathing.

Last week I had arthroscopic surgery on my knee to repair a torn medial meniscus.  I suffered the same injury to the other knee eight years before as a result of my training.  This time the injury came not from the mat but from the mosh pit.

Once the anesthesia wore off, I needed to start to walk again.  Needless to say it was no fun.  Bandages and swelling made bending the knee difficult as well as painful and weight bearing was uncomfortable.  It also meant I had to go to the closet and get out my great grandfathers briarwood cane.

imag02034

It’s quite an experience to have to re-learn something so basic as walking.  I have to make sure the cane is in the correct hand.  I have to make sure I sync it correctly with my feet.  It is frustrating, painful and really annoying to not be able to walk and move as I want to.  But once I put those feelings aside what I found was an opportunity.  To be conscious, actively conscious of every step.  To pay attention to how I lean to one side or lean forward onto my cane.  If I don’t pay attention, there are consequences… if I move too fast or take steps too quickly my knee hurts and I delay my recovery.  If I don’t correct my body posture I wind up with an aching shoulder or back.

I have had to re-learn how to find harmony with the ground and with my body as I walk.  It has forced me to be more mindful of my mundane actions.  Ultimately I know that in time the pain of the surgery will be worth it because my repaired knee will no longer ache when I drive.  I will be able to get down on my knees again without pain and thus participate again in the Aikido techniques done from a kneeling position.  But I hope I will also be able to continue to walk in a mindful way, even after I put my cane back in the closet.

Every Saint has a Past, Every Sinner has a Future

Yesterday (Nov 1) the Church celebrated All Saints Day. This feast day reminds us of the important fact that we all have the potential to be saints and are indeed called to live into that potential.
So in honor of all the saints, great and small, known and unknown alike, I want to share this past post on saints, their nature and how our preconceptions can get in the way of recognizing them.

So This Priest Walks Into a Bar...

One never knows where inspiration will strike.  As someone who looks for moments of the Divine outside its traditional milieu, I try to stay alert for such things, but at times even I get caught off guard.

***********

il_570xN.419946369_as8fI was heading towards the checkout line at the local Acme when I noticed the young woman standing in front of me.  Her tank top revealed a multitude of tattoos, none of which were very good.  Yet as I was about to squinch up my nose in displeasure, I noticed the tattoo on her shoulder.  But what struck me was not its quality (it was just a poor as the others) but rather the sentiment that was permanently inscribed there.  It read “Every saint has a past.  Every sinner has a future”

***********

I stood transfixed, completely absorbed in considering the depth and meaning of those words.  If anything their poor execution made…

View original post 373 more words

Mosh Pit: 1 Medial Meniscus: 0

“Did you go in the pit?”  My wife’s frown made it clear that this was no casual question.  She didn’t really need to ask.  I limped very slowly down the stairs, leaning on the bannister.  As I collapsed into a chair, exhausted and in pain, one question kept running through my mind, “If only…”

“If only…” How many times have you asked yourself that same question?  If only I had ordered chicken instead of fish.  If only I had zigged instead of zagged.  That morning the question concluded with the words, “If only I had gone to see Ruby the Hatchet instead of Alestorm.”

It was one of those rare occasions in which I had to decide between two concerts.  It’s rare enough that I have the time and energy to go at all.  Now I faced an embarrassment of riches.  Behind Door #1 was Ruby the Hatchet, my favorite slinger of stoner-doom-occult rock that’s straight out of 1972.  Door #2 was a wildcard.  Alestorm is unique, being, as far as I know, the only Scottish-pirate-metal band in the world.  Plus their tour mates, Nekrogoblikon, a melo-death act out of LA sporting a guy in a goblin costume, were pretty unusual themselves.

Perhaps you can imagine (then again, maybe you can’t) just how vexing a choice this was. What tipped the scales in favor of Alestorm was the fact that good friends were also going .  If I went to see Ruby, I would be flying solo.  Not the end of the world, but it’s always more fun to go with friends.

The Voltage Lounge (formerly Whisky Dick’s) was dark, filthy and cramped… in short, everything you want in a venue for this kind of show.  The all-ages crowd was remarkably diverse and included the usual motley assortment of denim, leather and obscure metal t-shirts.  But there was also a dude sporting an old school Mohawk, people in pirate and Viking garb, a few black metalers and a surprisingly large proportion of women.

Appropriate disposal of a PBR in the men's room at Voltage Lounge

Appropriate disposal of a PBR in the men’s room at Voltage Lounge

The first two bands were local acts whose surprisingly good chops were obscured by bad sound work.  There was a small pit going but nothing exciting enough to entice me, especially because I was still feeling right knee injury from a Gogol Bordello show in the spring.  I was happy watching from the balcony and resolved to take it easy.

Aether Realm took the stage and my friend Ben (remember Ben), who was already pumped from a round down in the pit, headed back.

I don’t have a rational explanation as to why I followed.  Maybe it was testosterone.  Maybe it was the Fatheads Headhunter IPA I just finished.  Whatever the cause, my better judgment checked out for the night.

By and large the pit was extremely energetic but good natured.  One standout was a young woman who didn’t just make a cursory pass through the pit but hung with the big boys most of the night.  In between songs I shouted to her, “You rock!”  She turned to me, gave me the finger, screamed, “Fuck you!” then immediately broke out into a grin and high-fived me.  But highlight of the evening had to the stage diving.

I haven’t been to a show where stage diving was allowed in more than twenty years.  But during Nekrogoblikon’s set people would surf up, dance on stage or even join in the singing, before hurling themselves onto the hands of the crowd.  It was so much fun that John Goblikon got into the act, jumping off the stage and surfing to the back of the crowd before making the return journey.

v__d0a1

When Alestorm finally took the stage things reached an even more frenzied pitch.  By that point I was not only winded but beginning to feel that my knee was worse for the wear.  Again, logic would have dictated a hasty retreat to a safer distance.  Yet I stayed.

It would be tempting to say “The beer made me do it.”  The only problem with this is that I had only two at the show and had been drinking only water for the last hour.  So I truly have no alibi.

x

Halfway through the set I was done.  Looking across at Ben I could see he was fading too.  By the last couple of songs the whole pit was barely bumping into one another.

As I hobbled very slowly back to the car I knew something was seriously wrong.  But for now there wasn’t much to do about it.  It was 1 am and all I wanted was a big glass of cold water, a hot shower, a handful of Advil and bed.

This brings us back to the beginning of our tale and my well-deserved spousal admonishment.  Fast forward through several trips to the orthopedic surgeon, some MRI’s, large needles draining pale yellow fluid from my knee, cortisone shots, a brace, a cane and a bottle of Advil and here we are.

As I suspected, the medial meniscus is shot If you don’t know what a meniscus is, that’s not surprising.  In simplest terms the meniscus is the rubbery knee cartilage that cushions the shinbone from the thighbone.  It can tear from being forcefully torqued which happened plenty in the pit.  Since I tore the meniscus of my left knee eight years prior, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m in for.  For the next three weeks I’ll be hobbled and have to take it easy.  Then comes the arthroscopic surgery.  The jagged edge of the tear will be trimmed and all the loose cartilage pieces floating around in my knee get suctioned out.

meniscustearmri

Recovery isn’t too bad.  Walking cast for a day or two and some pain meds.  Then it’s just a matter of carefully working my way back.  More brace, more cane, more taking it easy.  Lord willing I’ll be back to 100% before Christmas which isn’t too bad.

But the real point of this cautionary tale is not so much the what, as the why?  Why did I go in that pit when I knew there was a real likelihood that I would get hurt?  It’s not the first time I have asked this question.  I’m not sure I can explain it but I am sure that at least part of it has to do with trying to deny the fact that I am getting older.  At 47 I can tell you my body just ain’t what it used to be.  Although I exercise regularly and eat a more healthy diet than I have ever before, the plain facts are that my joints ache and it takes me much longer to recover from a strenuous workout or injury.

So why do I continue to attempt such age-defying stunts when I know that there will only be an ever-increasing price to pay the next day?  If I ever discover the answer, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, if you have ever done something stupid and found yourself asking “If only…”, please share your stories and, if you have any, insights as to why.

Granddaddy’s Growler

We were cleaning out my grandmother’s house and figuring out which knickknacks we’d hold onto.  I’d set aside a few things when my wife held up this oddly shaped tin pail.  It was vague familiar.  She asked what it was.  My mother told us it was a  “cherry-picking pail.” Whatever it was, my wife liked it.

Flash forward a decade.  A colleague brought in a similar looking tin pail with a lid.  She brought it in because she had just discovered that it was her grandfather’s growler and she thought I’d like to see it.

growler

My colleague’s growler

In the intervening years I had indeed learned that the mostly glass growlers that I used to bring draft beer home had stated out as simple galvanized or enameled metal pails.  As the realization dawned I ran next door to my house to pull the “cherry-picking pail” off the dusty shelf of its exile.

While the shape and size varied slightly from hers, the material and apparent age were the same.  This odd pail was not for cherries at all- it was for beer!

imag01966

The “cherry picking pail” that turned out to a growler

Given the fact that mine narrows at the neck this makes much more sense.  For gathering cherries or anything else that you’d be tossing into a container, said container should have a wider, not narrower opening.  Moreover, my grandmother was decidedly anti-booze and a member of the WCTU, which gave her motive to disguise the boozy past of this heirloom.

While it’s safe to say I won’t be taking this to the local bar or brewery for a fill up, I am glad to had this piece of family history to my growler collection.

As to the full history of growlers there is much agreement but also some debate, particularly as to the origins of the name.  If you want to learn more you can do like the old after school specials would say and “Consult your local library” or just click on this link, or this one or this one.

So do you have any beer related heirlooms in your family?  Please share your stories and pics.